Fishermen who were refused line fishing rights can apply for exemptions pending the outcome of an appeals process, the fisheries department announced on Tuesday.
The decision followed a meeting between department officials and the Traditional Line Fish Associations of South Africa.
The associations were up in arms after many of their members were denied rights. The new fishing rights were allocated after their permits expired on December 31. Of the previous 303 permit holders, only 115 were successful in acquiring the right to fish under the new allocation process.
Fishers earlier threatened civil disobedience over the process, which they claimed was unfair. The majority of those granted rights were new entrants.
Following Monday's meeting with department officials, the fishing associations agreed that their members would apply for exemptions and appeal the decision to refuse them new rights. "The department of agriculture, fisheries and forestry would assess the exemption applications on an expedited basis in order to ensure that deserving applicants would be able to go to sea as soon as possible," said fisheries deputy director general Desmond Stevens.
Those qualifying for exemptions would have to conform to criteria, which included having fished for at least 300 days in the Cape Peninsula since 2007 and 120 days in other coastal areas across the country.
"Both the department and the associations have agreed that it was important that over and above the interim solution, consultations must continue throughout the appeals process in order to ensure the best outcome," Stevens said.
In the meantime, all applicants would be provided with letters stating why they had been granted or denied fishing rights.
Fishers could lodge their appeals with Fisheries Minister Tina-Joemat Pettersson as soon as the appeals process opened.
Joemat-Petterson will have the final say on when the process would be begin and whether appeals were successful.
In a statement, Democratic Alliance fisheries spokesperson Pieter van Dalen welcomed the interim measure as a victory for fishermen and their families, who depended on their catch to survive and earn a decent living. "While we welcome the department's answer to our calls, we remain concerned that this is an interim move and a permanent solution must be reached without delay," he said.
Joemat-Pettersson should not use the opportunity to stall, but should rather speed up the process of dealing with the queries, taking into account the interests of all fishing communities on the country's coastlines, he said.
"The DA will continue to fight for rights of fishing communities and ensure that a permanent solution is reached." – Sapa